A federal agency is in Ashburn this week scaring off unwanted vultures. To do that, they’re firing off pyrotechnics and hanging dead birds from trees.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service this week began helping Loudoun County Public Schools and the Broadlands Association disperse groups of vultures that have been roosting in the neighborhood and at Hillside Elementary School and causing problems.
According to a recent statement from the Broadlands Association, more than 150 black and turkey vultures have been roosting near residential areas. The birds have reportedly been damaging rooftops and vehicles by picking at rubber seals and defecating on rooftops, yards, vehicles and playgrounds.
All week long, beginning March 1, the USDA will use non-visual pyrotechnics, lasers and other noise- and light-making dispersal tactics to scare the vultures away. The department will use pyrotechnics three hours before dark.
More shocking of a scare tactic to some is the USDA’s use of dead vultures, hung from trees on Broadlands HOA, the Southern Walk at Broadlands Apartment complex and LCPS property.
According to School System Public Information Officer Wayde Byard, the school system is paying the USDA $2,552 to implement this week’s dispersal tactics.
Broadlands Association General Manager Sarah Gerstein said the HOA consulted with the USDA only after“numerous complaints” from residents and local businesses.
“After consideration of the number of birds and the amount of time present, they recommend remediation to protect the health and safety of our residents,” Gerstein said. “The goal of the wildlife specialists at [the USDA] is to non-lethally deter the birds from roosting in residential areas where they can cause property damage and health concerns, but also to drive them to uninhabited woodlands or open farmland where they can safely roost away from potential hazards in residential areas.”
Blue Ridge Wildlife Center Director of Veterinary Services Jennifer Riley said the tactics are fairly common practices that could work in the short term but not the long term. She said the tactics also could have negative repercussions within the community even though they’re being done legally and with the federal government’s help.
She said the hanging of dead vultures from trees encourages a disrespect for wildlife and is “horrifying for the community to see.” She noted that practice is sometimes done with other wildlife, like coyotes. Riley said the use of pyrotechnics will also scare other wildlife, including residents’ pets.
Riley pointed out that vultures are helpful within the community, acting as “nature’s cleanup crew.” She said vultures are capable of ingesting dead animals with Rabies, which helps to eradicate the disease. They also can digest Botulism and Anthrax.
“These guys are really important in public health,” Riley said.
Gerstein said the HOA is aware of the advantages vultures provide the local ecosystem.
Riley said the Blue Ridge Wildlife Center offered to bring in a turkey vulture to teach Hillside Elementary students about the bird, but the school system declined that offer.
Byard said LCPS declined because of COVID-19 mitigation procedures.
“We’re not allowing any outside guests into Hillside right now,” he said.
Above all else, Riley emphasized that if residents want to keep vultures away, they should continue with the same prevention measures they’ve been using for years to keep other kinds of wildlife away, most notably by keeping food and garbage sealed up.
Riley noted that vultures aren’t dangerous birds and don’t have large beaks or talons.